Navajo Sandpainters (1941)

A medicine man and assistants conduct a sandpainting ceremony to cure an ill man. Story includes the family coming to him for help, the creation of the painting, and the healing ceremony.

Opening titles “Navajo Sandpainters” superimposed over a Navajo rug; wide shots of Navajo Mountain (Naatsisʼáán) and the surrounding landscape; a dead craggy tree in the foreground; a man walks towards to camera down a dirt path, hills in background; closer view from behind as the older man walks towards a hogan/hooghan and enters the home of a medicine man named “Hand Trembler”; the medicine man, the older man, a woman holding a baby and the hand of a toddler-aged girl exit the hogan and walk over the a blanket where they all sit down; as they sit, the older man gestures and the adults talk, the older man puts something in the medicine man’s hand and he places it in his shirt pocket; closer shot of the group, the medicine man speaks and gestures expressively; they all get up, the family goes into the hogan and the older man walks off back down the path; the medicine man, in just white shorts, exits a hogan and lowers the blanket to cover the entrance swinging a switch and paces back and forth in front, people are sitting and laying on a blanket nearby; he drops the stick and goes inside the hogan; he then returns outside fully clothed, followed by the woman and they gather up rugs and blankets that were outside on the ground, a child runs past looking into the camera; the medicine man, now in different clothes, exits the hogan, squats and drops cornmeal (or corn pollen? tádídíín) over his wooden alter just outside the door, then goes back inside; two women carrying vessels into the hogan, others work under a sun shelter in the background; interior of the hogan where the medicine man and four other men sit around bowls of food and a carafe of coffee on a blanket; close-up of the bowls of food; back to the group; wider shot of the interior as a man carries a blanket full of sand and adds it to the pile on the floor; three men sweep over the sand with narrow boards to smooth it into a big circle; various shots of each man sweeping; different shots of a man sitting and grinding charcoal with a mano and metate, other pouches and rocks around him; close-up of a man’s hand creating a pinched funnel with his index and middle fingers to sprinkle white/łigai/łigaii sand into the shape of a cross (the beginning of a moon/ooljéé'/tł'éé'honaa'éí) as they start the sandpainting/'iikááh, and then a circle around it, another man’s hand gestures beside; medicine man leans over inspecting the sand, speaking; back to close-up of hands working on filling in the white circle; the three men squat, point and discuss their work; close-up of a man’s hand lining the circle with black/łizhin sand, and three dots have been already added inside, then he rims a section of the circle with ochre colored sand; wider shot of the man the rimming the whole circle with short lines and other shapes jetting off; closer view of same, then all hands making painting rays (or feathers) where the smaller lines were all the way around; wider shot of the medicine man pointing to the painting while another smooths the sand around it; two men hold a string taut across the sand above and around the painting as others look on; various shots of the men drawing straight lines with sand on three sides of the moon painting, brown on the sides and white across the top and bottom, eventually widened into feathers, and the men add other symbols in the corners; various close-ups of the men’s faces as they work; the men add lines around the four sides, various shots of them transforming the lines into arrows; five bowls made of tree bark with differently pigmented sand: ochre, white, black, red, brown; close-up of hand holding a bowl with white sand and then wider shot of him handing it a painter, two men are finishing their arrows; one man paints an elongated black figure (one of the Holy People/Diyin Dine'é) perpendicular to the moon and arrows, then a closer view of an elongated white being drawn called Holy Boy, followed by other close-ups of hands working on the figures’ heads and bodies, and the faces of the men, and bowls of colored sand; closer shot of one of a Holy Girl being worked on; the medicine man gestures over a painted figure; series of shots of two men working on similar figures and adding lines radiating around a sun symbol (Jóhonaa'éí) and between the elongated figures going in each cardinal direction, and other symbols; close-up of a man painting a sun symbol; overhead shot of the group painting; back to the medicine man painting the sun; more overhead shots; the medicine man sits in a corner unwrapping a buckskin bundle and takes things such as feathers and other items and places them in a shallow basket; various shots of him wrapping a rattle in his hands, and then takes out more items; he then kneels and inspects the now very large sand painting; then various shots of him sprinkling cornmeal over the circular Yellow/łitso Wind symbol; shots of the ill man walking in and sitting down by the wall; he then gets up and joins the medicine man in tossing cornmeal from a basket onto the painting, a few people walk into the hogan and are seated near in the shadows by the wall; shot from behind of the men doing same; the other men who helped with the painting join in; series of shots of the group sitting against the wall, and shots of the patient and the family; close-up of the medicine man placing a shell with water and dried herbs near the Yellow Wind circle, then a bundle with a feather (medicine sprinkler) is placed across the shell, and a feather sticks straight up out of the sand next to it; the medicine man brings a small bowl over to the patient and anoints him with water from it; he then dips the feathered sprinkler in the shell and sprinkles the herbed water over the painting’s figures; the patient then sits in the center; various shots of the men seated against the wall chanting and shaking rattles, and the patient in the middle; twice the medicine man brings the shell over to the patient and places has him drink; he then walks in a circle around him pressing his hands onto parts of the painting, and then the patient’s various body parts with the feathered objects after dipping in the shell’s liquid, shaking them after each time he touches him; the patient stands up and he exits the hogan; the medicine man how erases the painting in an order from the center and then at the edges; shots of the helpers then erasing the whole thing as the medicine gestures and points; a shot through paned window to the outside as the man’s family exits the hogan; dusk, as the party rides on horseback past and away from the camera in silhouette; then a sun shelter in silhouette as the sunsets; end credits: “The End, Telefilm Recording” over a drawing of what looks like, strangely, a Hopi adobe.  

Some of this footage seems to have been repurposed in El Navajo (1945).

Cultural Narrative: 

Narrated by Alex Mitchell, cultural consultant, Diné College Museum. Facilitated by Rhiannon Sorrell, Instructor and librarian at Diné College.

Language of narration is primarily English.